The Crucifixion of the Christ


Reflection from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

(623) By his loving obedience to the Father, “unto death, even death on a cross,” Jesus fulfills the atoning mission of the suffering Servant, who will “make many righteous; and he shall bear their iniquities.” This he accomplishes even as he pours out the Holy Spirit upon all who gaze upon The One they have crucified by their sins.
By our monastic consecration of Obedience we seek to join ourselves with our savior upon the altar of the cross. This Suffering Servant is the only one who can make us righteous because he bears our iniquities and by his wounds we are healed—by his wounds which remain after the resurrection—he continues to share in our suffering and makes our suffering part of his atoning mission. Indeed, the Cross is our Only Friend, our unique friend because it makes us truly one with the Friend of Sinners!

Our Father

1. When they came to the place called The Skull, they crucified him. (Lk 23:33)

Hail Mary

Why was this place called The Skull? Because it looked like a human skull, because it was located near a cemetery—some traditions claim that it has the skull of Adam buried there, it was the place of public execution and the name refers to the abandoned skulls that would be found there. The Aramaic name is Gol Goatha, and it means the “mount of execution.”
39 The measuring line shall be stretched from there straight to the hill Gareb and then turn to Goah. 40 The whole valley of corpses and ashes, all the slopes toward the Kidron Valley, as far as the corner of the Horse Gate at the east, shall be holy to the LORD. Never again shall the city be rooted up or thrown down. (Jer 31:39-40)

What a wonderful story that the skull of Adam is buried there; for on that hill outside the city of Jerusalem the New Adam is killed. Certainly he was executed on this mountain and this mountain is holy to the LORD. A place of public execution is holy because of the love that brought him to the cross. Only on the cross does the LORD speak the universal language of love. What appears to be mere barbarism—man’s inhumanity to man—is really the most unexpected and precious sight in the eyes of the Father and in our own eyes. Indeed, the Holy Spirit enables us to feel the impact of love so divine. This skull is often seen on the bottom of a crucifix, and it was seen as the sure way to remember death daily. Monks used to have a skull on their desks to keep in mind the fundamental and liberating truth of love, freely given and freely received. As Abbot Basil Hume once quipped in his conference given at Saint Vincent in 1980. “Brothers, when you die, someone in this monastery will be very, very happy. And the next day someone will arrive to take your place.” Glory be

2. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; they know not what they do.” (Lk 23:34)

Hail Mary

The compassion of the Lord Jesus upon the cross applies especially to us, to those who have known what we do. We, who have spoken the words of monastic consecration, have lived as if no Spirit-inspired words ever passed our lips. It is the illusion of truth that we accept when we sin, and it is our sin that crucified the Lord of Glory. The Deceiver has accomplished his purpose when we know not what we do. We buy into the lie. We purchase the illusion and escape from the reality of our pain. We accept a moment of pleasure and reject another opportunity to suffer with the Lord Jesus. The truth is rejected; the lie is embraced. When we sin we forget that the Cross is our only friend. When we sin we embrace the lie of the Deadly Spirit and reject the truth of the Life-giving Spirit. We close our hearts and minds to the Holy Spirit. We act out of willful ignorance—we do not want to know what we are doing. We hide in the darkness of our ignorance, and prefer the darkness to the Light of the Living Flame of Love. Only the Lord of Glory upon the Throne of the Cross could possibly teach us the truth of our suffering. Indeed, only our suffering through Him, with Him and in Him will transform us from glory to Glory. This transforming union with the LORD Christ alone provides us with the truth that sets us free from the slavery of a lifetime of striving to fill our own emptiness, to fulfill our own desires, to save ourselves from the illusions all around us and deep within us. Glory be

3. One of the criminals crucified with him said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into you kingdom.” (Lk 23:42)

Hail Mary

The Holy Spirit melts our ice-cold hearts when we hear the words of this criminal crucified with our Savior. The Holy Spirit moves us to repentance and even true compunction. We may even begin to hate our sin more than we love our sin. Can these words of a desperate man—hanging in crucifixion after a life of dissipation and crime—can these words be our prayer? Only if the Holy Spirit leads us into the depths of our own depravity can we pray with Saint Dismas. Are we willing to enter into the dark and unfamiliar places in our own hearts and there behold how great is our need for a Savior? Are we willing to abandon the illusion of our self-deception long enough to see ourselves as the Lord sees us? Perhaps like the Little Flower, after she had seen the true condition of her own soul, we will cry out: “My Lord Jesus, how can I live will you in the Kingdom?” My soul is so filled with sin! I am so ugly because of the evil I have done and the good I have left undone! Perhaps with all those who have relied upon the mercy of God in Christ, we too will pray as this criminal prayed. Only with a broken and humbled heart can we honestly pray: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Lord Jesus remember me, even though I have forgotten you, again and again. Lord Jesus remember me, even though I have not remembered the fire of your love beckoning me to transformation, day after day. Glory be

4. He replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Lk 23:43)

Hail Mary

What a compassionate response! What an inspired promise! Again the Holy Spirit anoints the words of the Lord Jesus! To all the questions just asked of him by those in authority, Herod, Pilate and the Sanhedrin, the Lord Jesus replied with silence. To this request from a fellow sufferer, a criminal crucified next to him, the Lord Jesus replies with a word of promise. Men in positions of power—even those who clearly announce: “I have the power to issue you life or death” do not threaten the Lord Jesus. Such men do not manipulate the Lord, but a condemned man—a powerless and broken man—moves the Lord to compassion. He does not demand a perfect act of contrition. He does not demand many years of purgation before Paradise. Rather, the Lord Jesus gives what only he can give “today with him” the endless today—eternity in Paradise. What this sinner has so swiftly received from the Lord of Love is precisely what we receive from the same Lord Jesus. As soon as we ask, we receive. Not necessarily what we want, but exactly what we need—to be with him, today. This request and response did not take away any suffering from the Lord nor from Saint Dismas. Both continued to suffer and to die upon the cross, but for the criminal the pain was no longer unbearable. Indeed, he was buoyed up by the word of promise from the Crucified Lord. What else do we need to be lifted, held, and embraced in our times of suffering? Glory be

5. Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother… and the disciple whom he loved. (Jn 19:25-26)

Hail Mary

Now the Holy Spirit draws our attention away from the total strangers to the remnant of the disciples, His Mother and Saint John. If he treats the criminal next to him with such compassion, what does he have in store for those closest to him? Mary, the Mother of God, could not, not, be there at the foot of the cross. She had to be there at “his hour”. She had to be close to her suffering son to fulfill the prophecy she heard on the day of his circumcision, the day when he took on in his flesh the sign of the Covenant with Abraham. Indeed, during this hour a sword pierced her heart and the thoughts of many hearts were exposed before the mystery of the Cross of Christ. Saint John’s heart was exposed again. He laid his head upon the heart of Christ at the Last Supper, and now he remained close to the One Who First Loved Him. At the shore of the Sea of Galilee, Saint John heard his invitation—“follow me!” At the foot of the cross Saint John fulfills that summons—“here am I; I come to do your will!” Both disciples are fearless. Neither disciple is afraid to be close to the condemned “King of the Jews.” Are we afraid of suffering? Or are we fearless in the face of such a painful display of human ingratitude and divine intimacy? Glory be

6. Jesus said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” (Jn 19:26-27)

Hail Mary These two faithful disciples are given one final command. The Master Jesus commands both to “behold.” What does it mean to fulfill this command? How does one behold? Certainly it’s no casual glance. It is not just a matter of seeing. Indeed, it takes the Holy Spirit to behold. We need the new eyes and a contemplative gaze before we can behold. We need the Holy Spirit transforming our mere sight into a contemplative vision of awe and wonder. It is not enough to just see, consider, or notice. When we stand near the Cross of Christ we too are commanded to behold our new offspring and our mother. This is what happens when we stand so close to the Center of the Universe, at the “umbalous” of the Cosmos. In the bright shadow of the Cross of Christ we begin to behold the multitude of those with whom we stand, and we begin to contemplate our new relationship in the Blood and Water gushing forth from the Wounded Side. In Baptism and in the Eucharist we have become one with all the children of Our Mother and all those who are not afraid to rest their head on the breast of Christ, Our God. Such tenderness is painful to behold in the midst of such cruelty. Such beauty is startling to behold in the midst of such an ugly rejection and condemnation. Such a new birth is unexpected in the midst of such an ancient enemy seemingly triumphant. Glory be

7. And from that hour the disciple took her into his home. (Jn 19:27)

Hail Mary

What obedience! What love! The beloved disciple takes His Mother as his own; and Mary the Mother of God is now the Mother of the Saint John and all those who join the Church. Indeed, this is the hour long awaited from the beginning of the world. The Old Eve was called the Mother of All by the Old Adam. The New Eve is now proclaimed the Mother of All the elect by the New Adam. Every true disciple, that is every beloved disciple, like our model Saint John, is delighted to have the Theotokos dwell in our home. This is the True Devotion that saints of old have taught us. We not only recognize a special role for Mary the Mother of God in salvation history; we also recognize a special role for Mary the Mother of God in our own obedience to the Crucified One. Indeed, we are her sons and daughters, and she is our mother. This is the hour of salvation! This is the hour of our union with Christ through Mary. Indeed, this way—human and tender—is the only way to share fully in the hour of the triumph of the Crucified and Risen Lord Jesus. The Holy Spirit has brought us into this hour when disciple becomes the son and mother comes to live with the new sons and daughters of the Son of God. Indeed, in Spirit and Truth we have been born again, from above, so that we can offer perfect worship to Our Heavenly Father in the Name of Christ, His Son, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, now and always and ever and forever. Glory be

8. It was now about noon and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon because of an eclipse of the sun. Then the veil of the temple was torn down the middle. (Lk 23:44-45)

Hail Mary

Only the Holy Spirit could have orchestrated the events of the Passion of Christ. The cosmic event of three hours of darkness because of an eclipse of the sun and the veil of the temple being torn in two cannot be easily explained away. God’s creation and man’s creation, both respond to the Passion of The Christ. The eclipse hides the severe beauty of the Crucified. The torn veil reveals the Christ as the True Temple. Without the Son of Man freely laying down his life, we would never have life in abundance. This laying down, his sacred passion, happens when the natural light of the Daystar is eclipsed by the True Daystar, the LORD Christ. He is our supernatural light—the pillar of fire at night and the dark cloud by the day. It is too painful to watch. The Lord Jesus, naked upon the cross is struggling with unspeakable pain and unbearable humiliation. At least nature respects the Precious One. At least the light of day does not blaze bright over the Crucified. Those in the crowd may gaze out of curiosity or out of hate, but the sun turns away its face so that all who are casual about their gaze will see very little of what matters. It feels like nature protects the Word, without whom no thing was made. It feels like we are beckoned by the Holy Spirit to behold in the darkness the true light of the world. Perhaps the Holy Spirit is summoning us to witness the protective veil between the sacred and the secular be torn asunder. Nothing separates God from Man. Neither heights, nor depths, nothing separates us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our LORD. Glory be

9. Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” (Lk 23:46)

Hail Mary

The Holy Spirit speaks through the Son a prayer to the Father, and it is our prayer too. This prayer is not just spoken it is cried out in a loud voice. We so seldom pray in this manner. We are so often toned down in our praying, so no crying out loud sounds may be heard. From the text it sounds like the Lord Jesus wanted everyone to hear his prayer. Remember this is the same Lord Jesus who taught us to pray in secret—to enter into my room and close the door so that our Father who sees us in secret will reward our sincere petition. Yet sometimes, our prayer is out loud and in public. This we call liturgy, the work of God. How often do we sing and pray, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit?” The Spirit moved in the heart of the Lord Jesus to model this prayer for us. We pray it quite often at Compline in response to the short Scripture Reading for the Night Office. What does it mean to pray this way? How can this prayer become our own prayer? Our existence, our total existence, came from the hands of the Father. His hands fashioned us out of the clay of the earth. His lips breathed the Holy Spirit into our spirit. We have life, true and eternal life, because of the movement of God’s breath over the waters of chaos in our hearts and because of the Blood of the Lamb cleansing our conscience. How dare we commend our spirit? How dare we trust the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ? We can make this prayer authentically because we can cry out “Abba” and because we can proclaim “Jesus is Lord.” The Father heard the cry of his Only Begotten Son. The Father hears our cry. He responds by giving himself to us, no holes barred. Just before the Lord Jesus closed his eyes in the sleep of death and just before we close our eyes in nightly rest, we cry out “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Glory be

10. And when he had said this he breathed his last. (Lk 23:46)

Hail Mary

The Lord Jesus breathed his last breath, his eternal breath—the Holy Spirit! He gave up the last breath on this earth until his resurrection. In his radically new humanity, the Lord Jesus—the risen LORD, gave forth the very love between the Father and the Son. The Lord Jesus enthroned upon the Cross, breathed his last before dying. This tiny whispering sound, this small silent voice, this is the persistent call to holiness under the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. When we breathe our last will we be praying? When we pull back the curtain of the flesh will we begin to breath heavily—just to behold The Beauty, ever ancient, ever new? Will our restless breathing give way finally to a grateful sigh of passing from this vale of tears to the mountain of delights? The Lord Jesus has nothing more to say. Indeed, he has said it all. Now his greatest witness is to breath his last. All the signs have been seen. The seven-fold witness of Saint John’s Book of Signs has been surpassed in his Book of Glory. Now we see the full glory of the Father upon the face of his precious one and son, Jesus the Christ. It is this beatific vision that takes our breath away. Indeed, we are breathless to behold his love and mercy all the way through the crucifixion; he loves us unconditionally, without hesitation, and without regret. If this passionate love doesn’t take your breath away what will? Glory be